Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: Tombs & Terrors...

Good Afternoon, All:

It's been a while since I posted a review on this blog, so today seems like a great day to get back on the bandwagon. For today, I've selected a relatively unknown and undiscussed Old School book that I think might be of interest to my readers. Tombs and Terrors: Old School Fantasy Roleplaying, by Simon Washbourne of Beyond Belief Games, is another Old School retro-variant with its origins found deep in Castles & Crusades. Here's the author's blurb on the book itself:

Based on the rules first found in Go Fer Yer Gun! and seen later in Medieval Mysteries, Tombs & Terrors is an unashamedly familiar role playing game of delving into subterranean crypts and looting the treasure. Including 4 traditional character classes (Cleric, Fighter Mage and Thief) plus 2 "exotic" ones (Barbarian and Troubadour), and 5 races (Dwarf, Elf, Giant-kin, Half-elf and Human), this game is condensed for simplicity but covers ground that you will understand. Compatible (with some tweaking) with sourcebooks and supplements that you already have, this rpg provides another welcome alternative for your fantasy needs!

While Tombs and Terrors is available in PDF and hard cover, this review is based on the perfect bound soft cover version of this product.

Tombs and Terrors is a 107 perfect bound paperback measuring 7.4 inches by 9.7 inches, in black and white. The front cover is a simple brick red affair with a public domain image of a warrior fighting a dragon in a cave appearing in an oval in the middle of the cover. It definitely provides an Old School feel to me, but I'm also a guy who uses public domain images in my own products, so take that as you will. With a title page, three pages dedicated to a table of contents, a one-page character sheet, two pages of OGL legal text and a page of advertisements, the remaining 99 pages are devoted to some great gaming goodness. The interior art is a mixture of "Old School" line art and public domain images, and appears with relative frequency, particularly in the first half of the book. Although art is not of great importance to me, I like its presentation in this book.

Tombs and Terrors is divided into ten chapters and an Appendix. The overall content resembles the same basic organization used by many fantasy roleplaying rulebooks. That's probably because it works.

In three pages, Chapter One introduces the concepts of roleplaying, talks about dice, and describes in general what Tombs and Terrors is all about.

Chapter Two spends five pages providing the basic details on creating a character, describes ability scores and outlines the basic task resolution mechanic used for all non-combat activities (combat is resolved using a rules-light version of the basic D&D D20 system, but more on that later.) The author admits that his system was inspired by Castles & Crusades and it shows most obviously here. You determine your character's primary ability scores based on race and class. Tombs and Terrors adds an intermediary level by allowing you to somewhat specialize your character by selecting two other ability scores as secondary scores. The remaining two ability scores are your tertiary scores. When attempting to resolve a task, you roll a D20, add your level (if applicable), add your ability score modifier, and other modifiers that may be provided by the GM, or Tomb Master, as he is called in this system. If the result exceeds 18 for tertiary abilities, 15 for secondary abilities or 12 for primary abilities, then you succeed. (Notice the similarities to the SIEGE Engine used by Castles & Crusades?)

Chapter Three gives us some rules and insight into five character races: Dwarf, Elf, Giant-kin, Half-elf and Human. I noticed that there were no short races listed, which is both good (no gnomes, yay!) and bad (no halflings, boo!) The classic half-orc is also missing, replaced with a half-ogre stand-in. I imagine that's due to the author's preference, as he has said that he wrote these rules first to handle his own personal gaming needs. The system is easy enough, though, to add in any particular race that I might feel prone to including, and the racial rules are balanced and offer good racial flavor while being simple and easy to implement. Chapter Three covers five pages.

Chapter Four offers us six classes in fifteen pages. Four of them are the classic D&D core classes of Cleric, Fighter, Mage and Priest. Two other classes are offered as optional, the Barbarian and Troubador. In essence, these six classes gives us an option for a character with any single high ability score, from Strength to Charisma. Classes are reminiscent of various Old School character classes. Clerics turn undead and cast spells. Fighters have special combat-related abilities. Thieves have sneak attack and traps-related abilities. Mages cast spells. Barbarians gain rage, damage reduction, and other survival-related abilities. Troubadors also cast spells and have inspiration-based abilities. Each class also has a list of skills (which are better described later in the next chapter) to choose from, and after their initial selections, they can gain a new skill every three levels.

Chapter Five covers the skills used in Tombs and Terrors in seven pages. Twenty-six different skills, all pulled from the Revised D20 SRD, are covered with a paragraph or two each. I really appreciate that Hide and Move Silently were blended into Stealth, but I see that Spot and Listen are not (although Spot did get a name change to Notice).

Chapter Six offers the usual equipment lists in six pages. The seventh and final page of this chapter covers the basic encumbrance rules used by Tombs and Terrors.

Chapter Seven, Playing the Game, covers 16 pages, and includes saving throws, combat and other damage-based effects, such as falling and suffocation. Much of this section is pretty common stuff, being a distilled version of the D20 System to reflect a very Old School D&D-style combat system. Armor Class is ascending, and all in all, feels like Swords & Wizardry. Critical hits deal maximum damage, and Tombs and Terrors offers some fun Critical Hit and Critical Fumble tables.

Chapter Eight covers spells and magic over fourteen pages. The spell list is not extensive, but covers the basics, much like many of the retro-clones currently available on the market. The spells are not broken down by class or level, but are offered simply as an alphabetical list. The descriptions are rarely more than a sentence or two, encouraging a rules-light approach to resolving magic in and out of combat.

Chapter Nine is perhaps the biggest section of the entire book, covering fifty-nine creatures in 18 pages. This section also provides details on generating wandering monsters and treasure. The stat block for a monster is very short, having only six traits (AC, HD, attacks, movement, special and XP).

Chapter Ten, Running Adventures, spends four pages covering adventure planning, NPCs, rewards and gaining levels. Right after that, we see an adventure in seven pages that can be used to introduce players to the Tombs and Terrors system. This adventure is rather cliche, but truth be told, it works well. After meeting in a bar, you end up exploring a ruined structure, fighting creatures and finding treasure. You can't get more Old School than that!

The Appendix is only one page long, and it's a nice Tombs and Terrors character sheet. Short and simple, it does the job well and stands as a good testament to how uncomplicated and easy this system is to use.

My Thoughts
I'm very pleased to see the content of Tombs and Terrors. I think the system feels simple and easy to learn, and offers the same gaming experience as many Old School systems out there. It's a little simpler than what I am looking for, which is why I'm writing my own system, but I really appreciate the fact that Simon Washbourne effectively wrote Tombs and Terrors for the same reasons I'm writing MyD20 Lite. While there is little to distinguish it from other Old School retro-clones, I find it a fine example of the genre, and one that is receiving active support and development by its publisher. I would definitely recommend this system to anyone looking for a rules-light fantasy RPG, particularly if you have enjoys some of Mr. Washbourne's other products using the same system, Go Fer Yer Gun! and Medieval Mysteries. As nice as it is, though, I can't say that there's really anything that I find terribly exciting about it that I haven't seen elsewhere, but I do like how it has all been brought together into one system here. I definitely see that it is easy to translate other retro-clones and core D&D systems to Tombs and Terrors. While it's relatively easy to do so with other retro-clones, the simplicity of this game makes it almost trivial to do so. All in all, I feel that this is a very solid system, well worth checking out!

All in all, I'm going to give Tombs and Terrors a 7 out of 10.

Hope This Helps,


James said...

Thanks for sharing this review, Flynn. I have been tempted to pick this up, even if only in pdf. I only stopped myself because I'm getting to the point that I feel like I've nearly 'seen it all' in the retro-clone/tribute game field. I've got half a dozen of these games in hard copy and more than that in pdf. There's no way I will read them all in full, let alone play them all.

Besides, MyD20 Lite seems as close to ideal as I can hope for!

Sunsword said...

I'm curious, if I have C&C already, how different will this be?

Thanks for the review, I've been looking at this for a few weeks.

Flynn said...

The big difference, mechanically, from C&C is the addition of a intermediary level on the attributes, and the addition of skills. The classes are very similar in structure and abilities (maybe trimmed a little bit), and the races are a touch different (such as Giantkin instead of Half-Orcs and no small folk, for example), but functionally, the system looks very close to C&C at first blush. At $2.50, the PDF may be worthwhile just for the elements you could steal for your C&C game, if you decide not to use the book outright.

Hope This Helps,

Anonymous said...

I like how the crit hit/fumble tables coupled with the wound infection rules give it a bit of grit.

I also like the supplement Book of Classes - with it's knaves, witches and wayward clerics - but they seem more suited to Humans than the other races.